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Dog Separation Anxiety Behaviors

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Yuliss began blogging in 2009. Her site is dedicated to Weimaraner's health, fitness and rehoming intervention for families with children.

Chewed Dog Crate

Many dogs with separation anxiety have been noted to chew through plastic and even metal crates.  Has this happened to you?

Many dogs with separation anxiety have been noted to chew through plastic and even metal crates. Has this happened to you?

Dog Separation Anxiety: Common in Large Breeds

My friend is in a similar situation as many of us. She has a young dog, about to be a year old soon. He has grown physically at an exponential rate! From a fun, perfect-to-cuddle size to a large, boisterous pre-teen who loves to run, jump and chase. He is easily over excitable and oblivious of his 60lbs or more of weight while he engages in play inside the house and outside. All of this is fine. The problem is when no one is home…

Even though they chose crate training, this dog does most of his destruction when the family is away during the day. He has chewed his way through kennels and destroyed clothing, shoes and furniture all the while he is free and unattended. When the family returns, they find a hyperactive dog awaiting them, and a destroyed house, which takes hours to clean the path of destruction.

This is a familiar scene for many dog owners. You bring your dog to the veterinarian to find out why they behave this way and you are given a diagnosis – separation anxiety. There are medications and behavioral training that will help. But is it really a medical condition?

Simulated Separation Anxiety versus True Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Most separation anxiety in dogs is actually simulated separation anxiety. The American Veterinarian Medical Association (AVMS, 2012) declared that separation anxiety is the most common behavioral diagnosis in dogs up to 40% of the time. Veterinarians are often referring their clients to canine behavioral specialists for treatment. How do you distinguish between simulated and actual separation anxiety? Can you tell the difference?

Separation anxiety presents similar in both scenarios; mass destruction of clothing, furniture, garbage, food, dog supplies and the home, only when you are away. Something like “who did all this?!” “Was this you?” “What happened here?” “Are you okay?” The next thing the owner does is clean up everything while the dog often feels good about the owners return and reassurances and settles quietly and calmly nearby.

The second scenario is similar with the mass destruction of clothing, furniture, garbage food and dog supplies and the home. Upon returning home, the VERY FIRST thing the owner does is ignore the dog and assess the mess. Quietly and calmly the owner cleans up, the dog may be restless or may settle, may find a private spot to go a laydown. There may be urination or feces also throughout the house or in the crate or bed.

Owners Unintentionally Projecting Hyperactivity to Their Dogs

The first scenario is an example of simulated separation anxiety. The dog’s behavior is a response to the human’s behavior. It is common in these scenarios that the human has not shown the dog clear leadership. The human may think they are clearly asserting control, but to the dog, the training and rules lack consistency or follow through and have caused confusion. When a dog does not have a clear sense that the owner is in control, they feel insecure, and nervous. Nervousness is not a medically defined anxiety although some behavioral components are similar.

Contributing to simulation separation anxiety is the fact that as puppies, owners bring their new dog everywhere, and then suddenly stop as the dog comes of age. The dog enjoys being with the owner and misses the owner and senses true loneliness when the owner is away. The dog has no consolidated routine for the expectations of being home alone. Without a proper, directed outlet the dog goes “crazy” until the owners return.

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Other contributing factors are the way the owner interacts emotionally with the dog. The owner may prolong leaving for work or other outings. The owner may make additional fuss over the dog in preparation for leaving. The dog may pick up on certain objects, clothing or environmental ques and become restless as the owner prepares to leave. The owner indirectly, without meaning too, positively reinforces this nervous behavior by giving it attention.

The owner returns home is not impressed by the mess, but indirectly reinforces the misbehavior by speaking with the dog, possibly engaging in cuddling and other playful activities. When the owner acts like this teasing the dog after the destruction that was occurred, it sends a confusing signal to the dog that this destruction is okay and leads to playing, cuddling which is fun and rewarding!

Acceptable Play Destruction

Titan destroying his toy in a moment of excitement.

Titan destroying his toy in a moment of excitement.

Owner as Pack Leader When True Separation Anxiety Exists

The difference with the dog in scenario two is many things that at first glance may seem the same. First off, the owner is calm and assertive. The owner does not over engage the dog prior to leaving or upon return. So the dog is not in a hyperactive state when interacting with the owner.

The dog in scenario two, made the same type of mess but in a different way. The dog exhibits the same type of destructive behavior whenever the owner is removed from the environment, whether for a short time or long time. The destruction is consistent. EVERYTIME the owner is gone, the destruction occurs.

The dog in this scenario also has different behaviors and symptoms than the dog in the first scenario. The dog is the second scenario may bark incessantly for the entire time the owner is away. Barking or whining, with high pitched yelping are common. The barking and whining is prolonged and causes a disturbance further to neighbors. The dog may salivate excessively or yawn often.

A tell-tale difference in scenario two is also that the dog temporarily loses voluntary control of bowel or bladder in the crate or in the home. The dog may also eat the stool. These behaviors and symptoms mentioned in scenario 2 describe a true separation anxiety, as the dog’s fear of separation is almost to the point of a phobia and interferes greatly with their psychological well-being and ability to cope on a daily basis.

Signs of True Separation Anxiety in Dogs

  • Excessive salivation
  • Excessive panting
  • Excessive yawning
  • Stool incontinence in the house when owner is absent (in well trained dog)
  • Urinary incontinence in the house when owner is absent (in well trained dog)
  • Inability of dog to settle prior to owner leaving or returning
  • The dog may settle well upon owner's return and be calm and quiet even if the owner does not engage with the dog

Treatment For All Dogs With Separation Anxiety

If you have decided that your dog has simulated separation anxiety, providing a more consistent routine with more exercise and mental simulation can help. Look into dog daycares in your area, or a local service such as in Canada to find people in the community who can help with walks and dog sitting when you are away. Learn to set boundaries with your dog, but also look at fun ways to enjoy connecting with your dog and building a bond of trust, where you are clearly the boss!

Exercise and mental stimulation is also important in true cases of separation anxiety. Large dog breeds can be very intelligent and need lots to do because they usually have lots of energy and stamina! In addition, try to find toys that will provide long-term fun for your dog and help keep him or her occupied while you are away. Some large breeds dogs are aggressive chewers, so finding a safe long-lasting chew toy is great! You may also consider treat puzzles for fun and mental simulation.

Cater To The Aggressive Chewer

Titan was an aggressive chewer, but he wouldn't notice we left we had one of these Dinosaur Bones while we were away!

Titan was an aggressive chewer, but he wouldn't notice we left we had one of these Dinosaur Bones while we were away!

For More Information on Dogs and Separation Anxiety Behavior Please Read My Favorite Hubber - Adrienne!

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Yuliss

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